Thursday, July 21, 2011

Some Ladies Sweat

Oh, baby, is it hot outside! We're in a scorcher here in the Kankakee River Valley south of Chicago. Of course, we're not alone. A killer heat wave is hovering over most of the contiguous U.S. like a suffocating death shroud. Yesterday I cooked an egg on my deck in 2 minutes.

A 2-minute egg: hardboiled. A Mickey Spillane kind of an egg.

Obviously, I'm getting bat-shit stir-crazy from being way too housebound but what can I do? Honest to God, I hate this kind of heat. There was a time when I was sixteen and could wear a bikini and practically lived at the Chicago beaches... and I don't remember hating severe heat too much back then... and there was the year I lived in Ft. Lauderdale when I was twenty (and also lived in a bikini or a halter top and jeans all the time) and I don't remember hating the heat too much then either ... but I think those years were flukes.

I was probably just too young to appreciate how miserable I was...

I think there's only one respectable place for a lady to sweat and that's in bed... but being a lady I won't elaborate further.

Which reminds me of one of the most truly obnoxious women I've ever known -- a woman who fancied herself a real lady.
In fact, she once took great pains to instruct me about ladies and perspiration… and a few other things too. Her name was Beverly.

I was living in a 2-bedroom apartment in Ft. Lauderdale with my girlfriend Pat and one night Pat brought this chick Beverly home. I was the baby at only twenty; Pat was twenty-two or twenty-three and Beverly was in her mid-to-late twenties. Beverly actually seemed old to me and the truth is I think I disliked her at first glance but Pat was very enamored with her; how they found one another eludes me but it doesn’t matter. Suffice to say, Pat seemed to think Beverly was pretty special.

Pat explained Beverly needed a temporary place to stay (having just been kicked out of her boyfriend's digs) but what Pat thought was really cool about the deal was that Beverly actually had some damn money. Pat and I were pretty much free spirits and although we both worked and were far from indigent we never had any REAL money -- not like Beverly anyway. Bev was loaded... or so it seemed from our vantage point.

She claimed to have been a Delta flight attendant (of course in 1971 she was called a “stewardess”) but decided she preferred to work as a cocktail waitress at one of Lauderdale's most high-falutin' tourist bars and restaurants, The Moonraker. It was a place where neither Pat nor I could afford to eat but it was a goldmine for Beverly who was pullin' down a staggering hundred+ big ones a night -- in 1971 dinero mind you – in tourist season.

So we agreed to provide temporary shelter for 1/3 the rent until she found her own place. Beverly was happy to pay her share of the rent and even though I never really liked her I appreciated that she loved to cook. She definitely had a thing for making big Southern breakfasts with biscuits and gravies and even steaks and ham and she liked to bake pies... which brings me to the part about her being a very Southern lady.

Beverly was a true Magnolia Blossom and when she spoke she was almost captivating... as I said: almost.

Although I was fascinated with her accent and her colloquialisms (and enjoyed her breakfasts) I always felt there was a thinly veiled condescension, a delicately hidden sense of superiority toward us. I'm not sure if it was borne of her geography or belief that she was a greater sophisticate than either of her younger Yankee roommates but it rubbed me the wrong way. Pat, however, blew it off and said I was too sensitive and too easily offended. Since I was the person who, in a moment of temporary insanity, had been talked into giving up my room to Beverly and was sleeping on the couch (I know, I know... I was an idiot) I don’t think being overly sensitive or easily offended was really my problem… know what I mean?

Anyway, as another measure of my insanity I decided our living room needed painting and cut a deal with the landlord who bought the paint and supplies. I went at it with relish, painting, painting, painting… until the A/C died... in the middle of August… in Florida. The apartment's heat and humidity soared to what we'd now call a Heat Index of about 457 degrees. It could boil lead. The Palmetto bugs vacated the premises.

The paint wouldn't dry and neither would I.

I've always had this horrible tendency to sweat like a man. It's true. Even at twenty when I weighed a trim and fit 105 pounds and was in perfect health I could sweat more than a couple of guys called Bubba roasting a pig at a 4th of July Picnic in a swamp. (You get the picture.) So, at sometime in the middle of this painting catastrophe I bitched I was “sweatin' like a pig."

To which Miss Magnolia Blossom sneered and corrected me: "Mah’reen dah’lin’,” Beverly cooed, “a lady nevah sweats. A hohse sweats and a man peh’spires but a lady gets slightly wa’hm.”

I should have killed her then.

Beverly had a passion for football – and football players. She heard about a lounge down in Miami where the Dolphins were said to gather. Beverly had a thing for Nick Buoniconti (I don’t think she ever met him so I’m not implying anything either; she just thought he was especially cool) and she heard he was often at this same watering hole. So, one evening Beverly blew off work and the three of us headed down to Miami.

Bev, who was the only one of us who owned a decent car, did the driving. Frankly, she wouldn’t have been caught dead in our cars. She drove a brand new convertible Corvette that was brilliant red with a cream interior. It was definitely tits. (Which makes me wonder in retrospect why she didn’t have her own place, since she had enough money for a great car and was really rolling in dough but I suppose she was saving her money to buy a resort or something in the Cayman’s and we were happy to oblige. There was a quid pro quo in our relationship somewhere.) Point being: Beverly drove.

We were young, we were pretty, and we were carefree and we were off to Miami.

And before you think too deeply about this – yes, I was underage but I had ID and in those days no one seemed to ask for proof of age… at least not unless it was Easter and you looked like you could tear up a hotel in a drunken psychosis -- and maybe not even then. (As an aside I find it curious as hell and a terrible testament to what’s happened to this country that when I was 20 and actually looked 16 no one gave a crap if I drank but now that I’m 60 and look every damn day of it I can’t buy wine coolers at my local grocery without showing ID because now everyone in this nation has no common sense, can’t make a discretionary call if their life depends on it, and all businesses have policies that come straight out of the Fascist Corporate Model for Morons… but that’s something for another post. )

So, where were we?  Oh yeah. The lounge in Miami.

I wasn’t in the lounge 15 minutes before I met an old friend, a guy named Joe, from Chicago. Actually, Joe was from Evanston. When I was in high school I worked as a checker at a local grocery story and Joe was a young butcher. He was a jovial guy with great jokes. Joe and his new wife were vacationing in Miami and it had been several years since we’d worked together at that grocery store on the northside of Chicago. It felt great to see a familiar face.
Joe and Mrs. Joe were sitting with a guy who was the size of a small whale whom they introduced as yet another Joe; Joe Greene to be exact.

Yes; Mr. “Mean” Joe Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Honestly, nothing seemed mean about him; in fact, I thought he was sort of a teddy bear. Pat and I squeezed alongside these two giant guys and the one wife (my friend Joe the butcher was a huge guy too) and the men were gentlemen and Mrs. Joe was quite lovely. The conversation was easy and very pleasant and I looked around the lounge for Beverly but she was nowhere to be seen.

“Where the hell’s Beverly?” I whispered to Pat but my friend hadn’t a clue.

So, the night wore on and Pat and I met more people who seemed to gravitate to our table and the men kept the drinks flowing and the waitress hovered obligingly nearby and the bartender sent over a few free rounds and it seemed everyone knew this guy Joe Greene… or wanted to know him. We found a few more Chicagoans in the crowd and an older guy who said he’d once played ball too… and there seemed to be an abundance of ball players or wannabees and the conversation was all about sports which, quite frankly, bores me to death… but I knew it was Beverly’s passion and so I kept asking Pat, “Where the hell’s Beverly?”

After all it was Beverly’s bright idea to drive down to Miami and scope out the scene at this particular lounge and, in fact, it seemed to be producing what I thought she hoped to find… God knows we were up to our cute mini-skirted butts in macho males who knew a thing or two about yard lines and pig skins.

“Where the hell’s Beverly?”

The party began to wind down and the bar crowd was seriously thinned out and it was now near closing -- which means we were staring at 2 AM -- and I was still wondering “Where the hell’s Beverly?”

Pat and I had a hundred opportunities to leave with any number of men but we didn’t; believe it or not we weren’t big players. Honestly, I’d had all the sports talk I needed for a lifetime and I think Pat felt the same and we wanted to call it a night.

But neither of us knew where the hell Beverly was and so finally Pat went into the parking lot and I swear to God when she came back to our table she was wearing one of the most genuinely dumbfounded looks I’ve ever seen on anyone’s face.

“Beverly’s car is gone.” 
Say what? Come again? Huh?

Pat and I were stranded in Miami which is one helluva long poke down the road from Ft. Lauderdale at 2 in the morning.

My friend Joe and his wife insisted on driving us home -- which I was very grateful for -- but I was also mortified that this had happened and thought about ways to strangle the woman all the way home. Pat was genuinely worried sick; she was afraid that Beverly had been abducted by a serial killer but I knew better: I figured the poor bastard would return her once he got to know her.

Nonetheless we agreed we’d call the police if she wasn’t home at a “reasonable hour” which seems absurd now but at the time we were willing to set that time at Noon the next day. Beverly had been known to be a pick-up and we figured that’s what had happened – but it still seemed hard to believe that she’d strand us in Miami.

Even for Beverly that seemed hard to imagine.

So anyway my friend Joe and his wife, who had flown into Miami early that morning, spent the day running around town, and had now been partying into the wee hours, graciously drove us home in their rented airport car. Those folks must have been totally exhausted. Naturally, we invited them in for coffee and also breakfast and even offered them Pat’s room so they could get some sleep but they declined; they wanted to do an immediate turnaround and get back to their hotel in Miami.

Imagine our surprise when Pat and I walked into our apartment and found Beverly waiting for us… imagine our surprise when we found a furious, frenzied, insane Beverly waiting for us. We weren’t in the door two seconds before she pounced with the rage and fury of a woman possessed. She screamed at the top of her lungs that we “humiliated her” by “fraternizing” with black people (only she didn’t call them “black people”). And maybe I need to mention here that she was right in the use of the plural because my friend Joe and his wife were black people. (I think I forgot to mention that.)

Pat looked even more dumbfounded than when she first reported Beverly’s car was missing from the parking lot. She stood slack jawed staring at Beverly spinning around the living room doing her version of the St. Vitus Day Dance for Klukkers and spewing a venomous screed of racist hate. I have to admit I was as stunned as Pat and shared her initial speechlessness. 

Beverly waived one of her Pepto Bismal pink nails in our faces and hissed malevolently: “The next thing ah know, ya’ll gonna’ be bringin’ Cath-oh-licks and damn Jews fuh dinnah!”

Which when you think about it is the comical high note in this story. Neither Pat nor I wore rosaries around our necks and we weren’t exactly dutiful daughters of the Catholic Church but c’mon already – what’s there to miss about names like Patricia Kelly and Maureen McDermott? Do they sound very Baptist to you?

We had a wonderful and hilarious Jewish lady in our building, a Mrs. Friedman, and she could do better schtick than Lainie Kazan playing Lainie Kazan. Pat and I loved her. She looked after us and always bitched we were much too thin – and nothing is more melodious to a young woman ear's than hearing she’s way too thin. Remarkably, Beverly didn't notice Mrs. Friedman’s obvious Jewishness, the mezuzah on her door frame or that her son, who visited quite dutifully, wore a Yarmulka. I thought her Yiddish was a dead giveaway but maybe not if, like Beverly, you grew up near Memphis. It would have been an obvious surprise to Beverly that she was already living with Catholics and Jews.

I don’t remember what actually happened next but shortly thereafter (read: in < 5 minutes) everything Beverly owned – including her damn Magnolia Blossom Ass – was tossed out onto the wet dewy Florida lawn.

We said nothing as we walked back into the apartment after tossing the last vestige of that damn woman’s crap onto the grass. Pat locked the door in silence, careful to also use the dead bolt.

The weirdest thing about this wasn’t that Beverly fled terrified in the night (she did) or that we never saw her again (this was no surprise because she said we were both “totally insane” which was reasonably accurate) but that Pat and I never discussed it – ever. I’m not really sure why we never spoke of it but I think there was just something about that night that was too painful, too shocking. We had exorcised a beast from our midst and maybe we thought talking about it would bring her back. Whatever it was, a part of  our innocence was lost; Pat and I had looked into the eyes of the kind of person we'd only heard about but had never personally known. I've often thought about how different my life would have been if I'd been raised to think like Beverly. I've also often thought about how it would be to have a person like Beverly in control.

Something in Kelly and McDermott died that hot night in Ft. Lauderdale back in 1971... but clearly something stronger had been born in both of us.
This is dedicated to the young kid who wrote me an earnest and lengthy email asking me to tell him how a writer can become “inspired” to write great stories. Wow; what a question.

The truth is: I have no idea.

But I have a hunch that it's life itself that inspires all writers.

So, my advice is this: live a life -- and there will always be stories enough.

Good luck.

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